Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Rev. Dr. Lissa M. Wray Beal

Year C. Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17.

Jeremiah 1:4-10   Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD." Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."

Luke 13:10-17  Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day." But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?" When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.


In the movie, Dead Poet’s Society, new English professor Robin Williams takes his class into the school hallway. There, they gather around pictures of past students, now long dead. Williams urges them to “lean in, and listen” for “they are trying to speak to us.”

Today, we are going to “lean in, and listen” to two voices from the ancient scriptures. Though long dead, as the faith chapter in the book of Hebrews tells us, they “still speak.” And what they say to us is vibrant and relevant—as if they still walked among us and knew us – which, if we understand Scripture to be a Living Word, they in some way really do.

So, let us listen:


Good morning. You heard my story today – well, at least part of it. I was called by God while still a young man. But we must go further back: I was actually known by God before I was formed in the womb. Even there, I was consecrated by God, and called to this ministry. A difficult ministry.

I am Jeremiah. I ministered in a crucial and turbulent time in the life of God’s people. You know the story: for hundreds of years, Judah (the southern kingdom) and Israel (the northern kingdom) had drifted from God. They thought they could go through the motions of religion, while all the while they turned their back on God. He’d sent many prophets, and used many events to woo them back to himself. You see, he was not willing to send them into foreign exile – a judgment they had long known was possible, but apparently they thought they could fool God and the ultimate judgment – a disciplinary action – would never occur.

Well, when I was born, the northern kingdom of Israel had already been taken into exile. Only the southern kingdom, Judah, remained. I was born in the last years of a righteous king’s reign. He’d done much to help the people learn about God, and love him, and worship him. But when he died – very quickly the people turned from God again. Worshipped other gods. Were unkind and unjust to one another. Played the system at the expense of the vulnerable. Worshipped other gods, right in God’s own temple!

So as I say, God called me to minister to these people even before I was born. I was set aside to that task.

God gave me his Word. He said “I have put my words in your mouth.” Those words were powerful. They were life! And you would think that God’s people would hear them, remember how God loved them, and respond to him in like love.

But though I had his words in my mouth, though I had his call on my life, that didn’t make my ministry easy.

I was called be a prophet to the nations – and you can see in the book of my prophecies that many nations were addressed. But primarily? I spoke to the people of God: to Judah of the nation of Israel. And God’s word was not easy: it challenged them about their duplicity. About their double-life of thinking that appearing to be God’s people was okay, while they acted in ways of pride, injustice, and false worship.

My ministry was to “pluck up and pull down, to destroy and to overthrow.” That is, I was to expose their hypocrisy. Break down everything held up against the knowledge of God. Challenge their duplicity of worship. Hold them accountable to God’s Word which was good and life giving.

Unfortunately, most of the people did not heed my words. They pointed to their grand temple, and said “that proves we are God’s people; he wont’ judge us!”

So, because they rejected God’s word (and even the kings, leaders, and priests did!) I suffered. They put me in prison. They threatened my life. I was arrested many times. They beat me at times. Their false priests, and false prophets said things different than what I said, urging the people to feel at “peace, peace,” rather than repent and turn again to God.

So, though a servant of God, I was a servant who suffered. At times it was so bad, I wished I’d never been born.

But there were a few who did listen. A small circle (some say they were my disciples) who gathered around me. At times, they rescued me from arrest and imprisonment. They sometimes hid me from the king’s wrath.

But all to no avail. As the people continued to disregard God’s call of love finally, after hundreds of patient years, God released judgment on them – a judgment they knew was theirs under the covenant – after all, they’d agreed to its terms. The foreign army of Babylon came – captured Jerusalem – exiled the people. Only a few were left in the land.

I was one of them. But my suffering continued, and my ministry continued. I urged the people to trust God through the difficult times. Finally, a group of them kidnapped me, and ran away to Egypt. But even there, I ministered to them, proclaiming God’s word.

I died there in Egypt, although no one was there to record it.

But before I go, I need to say that my ministry was not all about judgment. It was not all “plucking up and pulling down, destroying and overthrowing” the false ways of the people. No. God’s grace was such that even to an ornery people, he promised that there would come a day when he would once again build and plant them. They would return to their land. And they would come to a new love of God – a new realization that his ways were good for them; life giving.

And that is my life. A hard ministry given me before I was born. God’s word in my mouth, breaking down the people’s sinfulness. And promise of God’s future replanting and building. A hard ministry? Yes. But it was God’s, and in that was a sweetness. I knew his strength and presence. And it was enough.


I had heard Jeremiah’s story, even when I was a young girl. I knew that he was sent with a hard message for God’s people: that they had gone astray although they clung to the trappings of their religion. That God was longing for them, and calling them to turn to him again.

I knew that Jeremiah had come to break down and build up.

I know that – because that is what I myself have experienced!

You see, I was not always as you see me now. I don’t know when it began, but I did not grow up as other young girls – instead, my body was twisted. Bent double. I looked at the ground – in fact, turning to look up at the sky was painful. My body was my prison. I was not free—that is for certain. For 18 long years. Some said it was an illness; some, a judgment for my sin (although I couldn’t recall what I could have done to deserve such a punishment – I think they were wrong).

I was bound. Until he came. I’d heard of this travelling preacher before. That once, he’d come to another synagogue and read from the scroll of Isaiah. You know the place where it says, “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free; to proclaim the time of God’s favour.”

So, when this preacher came to our synagogue, I wanted to hear him.

I came into the synagogue where Jesus was teaching. As usual, I came after everything had begun – I didn’t want people to notice me so I’d usually slip in the back of the crowd. But he looked up the moment I entered, as if he’d been waiting for me to arrive. He stopped what he was saying. Called me over. Laid his hands on me and told me I was free – unbound!! And it happened! In front of everyone, I straightened – as you see me now.

It was a miracle. No; it was my miracle. There were others there that day that needed healing, but were not healed – that puzzles me. I can’t really explain it although I’ve heard some of them speak of that day without bitterness. But for me, Jesus set me free. I think of what Jeremiah said, that God would “build and plant.” That is what Jesus did in my life that day.

But he also uprooted that day. For the synagogue leader – I think he was jealous of what Jesus had done, and how everyone was excited – got angry at Jesus for healing on the Sabbath – it was to be a day of rest. Now, there were no laws against healing. But the synagogue leader said what Jesus had done was wrong – work!

And Jesus? He tore into him! Called him a hypocrite! Said: how could you not, on a day for rest, set free someone who was bound??

I often think of Jeremiah’s ministry and my life – in both, there was the experience of destruction and uprooting – the leaders’ false ideas of religion. Pride. Unwillingness to acknowledge God at work.

And there was building and planting: I was restored. I came to a new understanding of God’s love and power. And this Jesus – though they crucified him as a criminal, I believe the reports that he was raised from the dead.

For if he was God in the flesh; if he could overthrow satan’s work by setting me free; if he could overthrow the self righteousness of the religious; if he could build my life again in freedom. . . could he not also overthrow death itself? Could he not plant the kingdom of God in our midst?

I think he can. I think he did.


Though they are dead, yet they speak. And they speak powerfully to us!

Did you notice that Jeremiah’s life and ministry seemed at times quite familiar to Jesus’ own life and ministry? (It is often the case: prophets and other OT characters and events prefigure those of Christ’s own life).

Like Jeremiah, Christ was known by God, and appointed to ministry long before his appearance on earth. For Jesus was eternal – was God – from before all time. Luke tells us that he was appointed to be our salvation, “a light of revelation to the nations, and the glory of God’s people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32).

Like Jeremiah, Jesus had the Word of God in his mouth. No – he was the Word of God, come to live amongst us. He was the Word of eternal life. And as we walk in, learn, meditate upon that word, it is made true in us.

Like Jeremiah, he suffered – he was the suffering servant of Isaiah. He voiced the same lament as Jeremiah did “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And like Jeremiah, he had a small group around him – those who “got” what he was about. Oh, not all the time – and only completely after Jesus’ terrible death. But they got it – and spread the message of the God who had come to uproot and destroy, to build and plant.

Jeremiah’s ministry was to “pluck up and pull down, destroy and overthrow” kingdoms raised up against God. Jesus’ ministry was also about this task. But he did not tear down kingdoms of the earth: Moab, Babylon. He tore down the much larger kingdom – the kingdom of satan which ruled over all the earth and was responsible for human suffering: hatred and injustice; pain and death; fear and self-righteousness.

He accomplished this through his suffering and death. And by his resurrection demonstrated that the power of that old kingdom was broken.

Now in his church, he plants people in the life of God’s kingdom. He brings them out of death into life.

At a personal level, Jesus has come amongst us. He wants to uproot all the false fronts we put up, trying to convince him we are good, and righteous, and godly. He wants to tear down all the things: pride, self, conceit, in our lives so that he can build his life into us. Like the “bent woman” he wants to release us from all that binds our lives so we can walk upright in God’s righteousness, and peace, and joy.

But his ministry of uprooting, and building and planting is not only in our lives.

He wants his church – you and me! – to go out and do the same in his name. We are his hands; his feet; his word to a world that still lives under in the kingdom of destruction. So, we are called to uproot and tear down – bringing the good news of Christ that breaks down false religion. Prideful action. Injustice against the vulnerable (for there are many women and others, who all their lives live in the lowly place and look at the ground). Jesus wants us to tear down all that opposes the kingdom of God. We, the Church, are his salt and light within this world – we work together with God to build and plant his kingdom.

So we build and plant, too: acts of kindness. Deeds of charity that care for the least of these. He wants us to spread the Sabbath rest experienced by the bent woman: set free in her body, mind, and spirit.

Each of us is called to minister – indeed, called before we were born. And having God’s kingdom planted in our own hearts through faith in Christ, we have experienced our own uprooting and building. Every day we walk with Christ, he wants to tear down in our lives what we have raised up against him. He wants to build in our lives freedom and Sabbath rest in a weary world. And he wants us to be agents of the same actions – uprooting and building – in the lives and communities around us.

In short, he calls us to discipleship, and to be disciples.

God’s call to us in Christ is this: “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

The kingdom of God has come amongst us. Let us go in God, and spread it further, calling others to its freedom.